Farouk Mustafa, 70, Great Literary Translator and Teacher

Yesterday, award-winning translator and teacher Farouk Abdel Wahab Mustafa — who sometimes used the pen name Farouk Abdel Wahab — passed away following a short illness. He was 70:

Image from University of Chicago.

Farouk Mustafa was born in Tanta, Egypt, and grew up in Tanta and in Cairo. He did his initial studies at the University of Cairo, after which he moved to the University of Minnesota, where he completed his Ph.D. But even before he had finished at the U of M, Mustafa joined the University of Chicago, where he taught for nearly forty years.

Mustafa has made great and vivid contributions to Arabic literary translation, from his 1974 anthology Modern Egyptian Drama to translations of Ibrahim Abdel Meguid’s Birds of Amber, The Other Place, and No One Sleeps in Alexandria; Gamal el-Ghitani’s Zayni Barakat,The Zafarani Files, and Book of Epiphanies; Hala el Badry’s A Certain Woman; and Bahaa Taher’s Love in Exile, among other works. Mustafa also translated into Arabic, bringing into the language Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure and Luigi Pirandello’s Henry IV.

In 2007, Mustafa was recognized with the Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation for his translation of Khairy Shalaby’s The Lodging House, of which judge Roger Allen said, “The translation is a brilliant exercise in the transfer of both literal meaning and nuance into the context of another language’s culture – no mean feat.”

Image from AUCP.
Image from AUCP.

That same year, he told journalist Mayya Jaggi: “Whether you think it’s going to be a ‘clash’ or a ‘dialogue’ of civilisations,” he says, “we have to know what the rest of the world is doing and thinking, and nothing expresses that better than literature.”

Mustafa was also a beloved teacher. The Director of the University of Chicago’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES), Fred Donner, noted in a public statement that Mustafa “was for almost forty years the mainstay of our Arabic teaching program at Chicago, and life here will not be the same without his dedicated teaching and larger-than-life presence.”

A number of students, colleagues, and friends have left public tributes on Farouk Mustafa’s Facebook wall.  Esra Tasdelen, in her public tribute, writes, “But most of all, I remember you in the classroom, teaching us, showing us how the Arabic language works in mysterious but beautiful ways. In the classroom was where you truly belonged, and flourished.”

Friends and colleagues remember him as one of the great, patient teachers, as a collector of jokes, as a fan of Ella Fitzgerald, and as a passionate lover of literature.

With authors Khairy Shalaby and Hanan al-Shaykh. From Banipal.
With authors Khairy Shalaby and Hanan al-Shaykh. From Banipal.

Arabic literature scholar Margaret Litvin posted, “He used to say every Arab intellectual was one part Hamlet, one part Jesus Christ, and one part Don Quixote. I’ll miss the Quixote the most! Goodbye, dear Farouk.”


From The Lodging House.

Fist Fight,” (page 288), also from The Lodging House


From AUC Press

From Esra Tasdelen

From CMES director Fred Donner

@emilylhauserOh no. My much beloved UChicago Arabic professor, Farouk Mustafa, has died. The world will have far less laughter without him in it. ז”ל
@sepoyTerribly sad news out of Chicago. Farouk Mustafa has passed away. RIP, ya ustaadh. http://nelc.uchicago.edu/faculty/mustafa 
@chicago_leoI never thought this day would come so soon. RIP Farouk Mustafa. انّا لله و انّا اليه راجعون
@AndrewOcoRIP Farouk Mustafa. Brilliant and beloved Arabic teacher @ UChicago
@MelizClarksome people give so very much to those around them, that when they go, a black hole forms where they used to be. Farouk Mustafa, RIP.
@juliaradioRIP ya Ustaz Farouk Mustafa- a true inspiration to all students at the U Chicago Arabic dept and a lovely human being http://www.banipal.co.uk/contributors/505/farouk_mustafa/ …


  1. I have met Uztaz Farouk may be three or four times only when I visited UChicago in 2004 and 2005. We have spent long hours sitting in NELC’s lounge telling funny stories. Of course funniest stories would be that happened in Ustaz’s classrooms. Nobody could beet him…
    Even today when I was telling my schoolmate about Farouk and his jokes I was laughing as if I heard them first time.
    I will remember you, Ustaz Mustafa! And I will always smile when I remember you.

    1. What a lovely memory. Thanks so much for sharing!

  2. I wish i had been able to contact such an academic professor, prolific, and veteran literary translator personally to get from his ample knowledge and learn from his wide experience.

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